The quiet start, the build-up of notes, before that voice, low at first, then soaring through the room, through space, through my heart. The radio on, in the echoing, mouldy kitchen at 15 Harringay Road in London, down the road from Manor House tube station, bottles building piles round the never-used fireplace, and me trying to work in the cold of whatever day it was that my memory now comes from. It was way before George Michael's A Different Corner, his greatest song in my opinion, was finally released in April 1986. I can still see the breath in front of my face, my hands freezing, trying to write down notes to the words I was dictating for our typists down in Orpington to decipher when I took my pile of documents and tapes down there every Friday. It must have been halfway through January 1986, and so many things had happened to me the previous six months.
Imagine a young man (a boy, really), just freshly out of a long-distance relationship with a German girl (who had finally moved to England), a boy so full of faults he was almost inversely perfect, who'd ended up sofa-surfing for the best part of 1985, and become sick and tired of the surfing when he'd been on the sofa in that flat above a tailor's shop in Green Lanes in Harringay for just too long. The boy who started to look for somewhere permanent to live using Capital Radio's Flatshare (does that still exist?), and got an interview at the house just 5 minutes walk, if that, north, just off Green Lanes. And then he got the phone call, at work, one day, to say he'd been accepted to share the house, albeit in the smallest bedroom of the four there were.
I dumped the few things I did have on the floor of the room, threw myself onto the bed, and stared at the ceiling, wondered what it would be like here, sharing with two women and another man, all of whom had jobs of one sort or another in central London. I got up and started sticking posters up, put my toothpaste and brush on the window sill. It had to be better than not knowing where I'd be from one week to the next. It had to be better than wandering into Turkish clubs at 4 in the morning, drunk from booze and loneliness, just to back out at the sight of all those pulled knives.
That morning in that kitchen must have been only two or so weeks after I moved in with L, the girl in the house with the biggest room, and a gas heater in the room. Six days after I'd moved into the house itself. She was very different, and we'd danced in her room on her birthday. Her best friend cried at the story of how we got together, how she said she felt. And that song, on that day, after she'd gone off to work at the Galton Laboratories, and me feeling safe for the first time in a long time. How safe can love ever be?
Reading the lyrics for the first time in an age now, after George Michael's oh-so-premature death, it strikes me how oddly prescient they are in so many ways. She did bring me to my knees, told me so many different stories, and I still don't know which were true and which untrue. Maybe they were all real. I remember thinking at the time how awful it would have been if she, or I, had turned a different corner and never met. And, of course, I thought it would be forever. That's how she became Fiancée Number Two.
I remember the yellow of the paint on the kitchen walls. I remember many things I cannot say, remember the feeling of the voice, her telling me about how I was steel dressed in silk, the one poem she wrote for me, and how, in the end, her new boyfriend tried to run me down in his car in Digswell one night after our cat had died. But that was all such a long time ago. That morning, that kitchen, that emptiness filled by the sudden chords of an unknown song, a song that will stay with me forever. And I know now, leafing through the poetry books I wrote then, how much that period has formed my writing, how those lyrics have informed my writing, the going off at tangents in our lives, all those different corners we have arrived at, and made choices that have changed our lives, that eternal conundrum of how our choices have changed us.
That's only my side of the story of course. Where she is now, I don't know, and I no longer care (I used to, unhealthily), although she might have a different side of the story to tell. I found Fiancée Number Three who became my wife over 25 years ago. I became the man bereft of too many cats, I became the man I am now; middle-aged, and wanting to be young again. I became the man who still isn't satisfied with his existence. I became the man so in love he ignores whatever faults the world might see.
The song is still true, in so many ways; a combination of sounds and words that is a universal truth, however personal it may have been to George Michael, however personal it might have seemed to that boy sitting in that kitchen, that morning, that time so long ago. Love is never constant.